Since 2010, Kyrgyzstan has endured a period of considerable political instability. Although a new constitution was introduced that guaranteed religious freedom following a revolution in that year, the central government remained weak and collapsed in August 2012. Christians in Kyrgyzstan have continued to experience discrimination throughout these turbulent years, and it is unclear if the recent establishment of a new government will change their condition.
The country’s repressive religion law, passed in 2009, is the source of many restrictions on Christian life. It requires each congregation to apply for registration, which is a cumbersome and lengthy process. Some churches are unable to register, either because they do not have 200 founding members, or because they cannot get approval from the State Commission for Religious Affairs and their local councils. Unregistered religious activity is banned, as is all worship in homes or public locations.
The law also forbids the distribution of religious literature and materials in public and places significant restrictions on evangelism. However, the weakness of the government has meant that some of these powers have not been fully used.
The power vacuum left by the weakness of the secular government is often filled by Muslims, who strongly influence village elders to make life hard for Christians. Christians are often refused land for the burial of their loved ones. Leaving Islam is seen as betraying one’s Kyrgyz identity and family, and ethnic Kyrgyz who convert to Christianity often face severe pressure and threats from their family and local communities.
Many ethnic Russian believers have emigrated to Russia, and thousands more unemployed Christians have left to find work there, reducing numbers and often depriving churches of leadership.
The majority of the population of Kyrgyzstan is Muslim, but often only nominally. For centuries Kyrgyzstan was ruled by foreigners who imposed their religion on the people, and Christianity is sometimes seen as the religion of non-indigenous Russians, Ukrainians and Germans. Yet over recent years the number of known Kyrgyz believers has been growing steadily.